Ratten’s Saints bring sexy back
This was a slicker, sexier St Kilda.
At the end of a tumultuous week farewelling former coach Alan Richardson, the dark clouds parted to reveal some bright sunshine.
Tough nut Hunter Clark played his best game for the club, Rowan Marshall dominated Tim English in the ruck early, and Jack Lonie put on a fireworks display in the first term.
Richardson might have had a fit from his Bali villa, where the departed coach has gone on holiday this week, as the Saints piled on six first-term goals.
But maybe this 27-point win over the Dogs said as much about the playing list as it did about the second coming of interim coach Brett Ratten.
Clearly, Ratten made some tweaks to the game plan as the Saints swarmed on the Western Bulldogs' trademark handball game and then went more quickly and directly to the forward line.
The Saints broke through for their first 100-point score of the season, taking more risks through the middle to rebound quicker after turnovers.
They dialled up the pressure early, intercepted strongly and were aggressive throughout.
Even debutant Doulton Langlands was part of the march in the third term as he held on to a gutsy mark, fired off a quick handball to a running Jack Steele, who hit Jack Newnes inside 50m.
Good on Ratten, who lost his job back in 2012 despite leading Carlton to 11 wins that year.
As with Rhyce Shaw at North Melbourne and David Teague at Carlton, the club powerbrokers will strongly consider keeping Ratten at the helm permanently if we see more performances like Sunday's in the last five rounds.
First up, it was a considerable tick.
But while Ratten will be a huge talking point over the next 48 hours in how he put some boot polish on an injury-hit team, what about this St Kilda list?
It may sound harsh, but the common criticism of the St Kilda squad has been that it is seven scoops of vanilla. That means, it's rather bland.
Where are the future superstars? Who is going to turn a game or become All-Australian?
The conservative recruiting policy has provided plenty of workhorses and foot-soldier midfielders.
But Saints fans were raving about Marshall and Clark on the drive home from Docklands Sunday night.
In the second term the duo got Saints fans out of their seats when the on-fire big man tapped straight down the throat of Clark, who snapped truly from 40m in the pocket for his second goal.
Neither player was in the Round 1 team.
In the first term, Lonie took a stranglehold on the match when he threaded a spectacular checkside goal from right on the boundary line.
Meanwhile, Luke Dunstan is having his best season, Jack Billings continues to grow and Blake Acres went on a blinding run down the middle to set up Jade Gresham from point-blank range.
Compared to the senior coaching vacancy at Carlton, St Kilda might have initially been seen as the scrawny puppy down the end at the lost dogs' home.
Certainly when you compare the top-end talent, the Blues are more a golden retriever or labrador.
But this was a statement from the St Kilda playing group that, just like the Blues, they believe they have some genuine upside, too.
CLASSY RICHO REACHED OUT TO RATTEN
St Kilda interim coach Brett Ratten says he felt for departed boss Alan Richardson after the Saints produced one of their best performances of the season to upset the Western Bulldogs.
Five days after parting ways with Richardson, the Saints scored more than 100 points for the first time this year to start Ratten's tenure with an impressive 27-point victory.
In particular, youngsters Rowan Marshall and Hunter Clark sparkled as the Saints showed switchblade efficiency in the forward half scoring 31 times from only 47 entries.
Ratten revealed how he made a big effort to help restore the Saints' players' battered self-belief levels this week, but said he ultimately felt for Richardson.
"It's been a big week for everybody, when something like that happens and the coach is removed and people step in," Ratten said.
"'Richo' sent me a text today wishing me all the best and he is away at the moment, and it's just through circumstances I get to sit in this position.
"I feel for him enormously, but footy is a brutal game and we have to move forward.
"For the players to respond that way and execute the way they did was really pleasing."
Ratten said there were no major changes to the game plan other than more encouragement to take the game on offensively when the gaps appeared in the Dogs' defence.
The former Carlton coach said it was equally important to hold talks earlier in the week with players to help rejuvenate their own self-belief.
"There weren't huge changes, I think it was just trying to instil belief in the group, give them confidence," he said.
"I think as a coach, you just give the players the instruction to play what the opposition give you.
"If the window opened up, we probably tried to take it a bit more."
St Kilda will have talks about appointing a coaching selection committee this week.
Ratten, who was part of Hawthorn's golden era after leaving Carlton in 2012, will be a strong candidate for the vacancy if the Saints' improved form holds over the remaining five rounds.
Ratten said he learned some of the most valuable coaching lessons in his final year at the Blues.
"I was very fortunate to be at the Hawks with 'Clarko' (Alastair Clarkson) and go through that period, it was amazing," he said.
"But sometimes the greatest lessons were in the last year of my coaching tenure at Carlton.
"It helps shape you as a person, no doubt with maturity and more experience it has helped me enormously."